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InsightSept 08, 2023

Accessibility in Canada: Manitoba

The Accessible Canada Act intends to establish a barrier-free Canada by 2040. Through this series, the RGD highlights the extent of application of accessible design regulations in provinces across Canada.

First up, Andrew Boardman RGD, Creative Director at mangrove web, sheds lights on Manitoba's comprehensive web accessibility regulation.

As one of many designers and architects of the web, I easily take for granted the vastness and ubiquity of this network that has transformed life on the planet. The web is a radical approach to information and knowledge sharing, removing barriers to communication by its very nature. And yet, we still have far to go in creating accessible websites that can reach everyone, including 22% of the population in Canada, and elsewhere, who identify as having a disability.

Fortunately, conversations around web accessibility are happening more readily amongst designers, developers, and writers. And now governments in both Canada and the US are starting to take a more dynamic approach, using both carrots and sticks, to ensure that more people have access to ideas and information online.

Accessibility for Manitobans Act

On May 1, 2022, a far-reaching web accessibility regulation came into effect in Manitoba, applying to almost every organization in the province of 1.37 million people. The regulation is part of the Accessibility for Manitobans Act and states that government agencies, non-profit organizations, and businesses must comply with accessibility standards to “remove and prevent barriers that exist digitally, in print or through interaction with technology or people.” What does this mean in practice?

By May 1, 2024, all public sector organizations, libraries, and educational institutions in Manitoba must ensure that their websites and online content meet or exceed the W3Cs globally followed web content accessibility guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 at Level AA success criteria. Next, all businesses and non-profit organizations must comply with Level AA web accessibility standards by May 1, 2025. This is consequential in scope.

While WCAG 2.1 Level A is a good start for organizations and makers of the web, it doesn’t cut it today. And Level AAA website conformance is difficult, but not impossible. In true Goldilocks fashion, WCAG 2.1 Level AA is a significant yet realistic level of compliance and it will continue to be the standard for making accessible websites, even as the WCAG 2.2 guidelines roll into full recommendation.

Remarkably, the Act’s Information and Communication standard goes three steps further. First, all organizations in Manitoba must inform the public that they can request information in an accessible format. Second, organizations must have a feedback mechanism about their information and communications (a best practice online). Finally, organizations must provide training on the standard to anyone who connects with the public, writes site content or procures web technology (e.g. websites).

Going beyond checkmarks:

Compliance with a standard like Level AA is not the end goal. Checking boxes does not mean that a site is accessible. Inclusive design involves working with and learning from people with disabilities and must take into consideration other factors, including mobility, race, gender, class, sexual orientation and neurodiversity.

If you are interested in learning more about web accessibility, here are a few practical and designful resources:

  • Last year, Manoverboard (now part of mangrove web) created a purpose-built website about accessibility for designers, developers, and writers called make-it-accessible.
  • You might also have a look at our post on key accessibility considerations in website development, with links to other resources.
  • Accessibility weekly is a superb weekly newsletter with curated, up-to-date and insightful content.
  • The RGD’s AccessAbility 2 is a useful foundational handbook on accessible graphic design.
  • Finally, check out Will Soward’s fascinating neurodiversity design system website.

If you have any questions or comments, please don’t hesitate to email me at andrew@mangrove-web.com. Also, this article does not constitute legal advice.


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